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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  December 25, 2012 6:00am-7:30am EST

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>> in their lives and in their hearts, and their historical consciousness which, as he put it, may prove to be more deadly than that iron curtain of which we speak so much. baldwin used a refrain about distancing between whites and blacks, between whites and of themselves, and between the
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stories within which people claim to be living. as the celebratory marches arrived in the center of montgomery, baldwin noticed that the confederate flag was flying from the capitol dome, and that the federalize alabama national guard ordered to protect the marchers, as he put it, ward little confederate flags on their jackets. on all along the road, rogue baldwin, quoting him, older black men and women would undo -- into her unspeakable repression. and the white section of town, baldwin saw businessmen, as he puts it, on balconies, jeering, their mates in backdoors standing silent. and he describes, quote beige colored woman standing on the streets, a bit nervous who
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suddenly steps off the curb and joins them. a small american flag in his hand, baldwin marched next to harry belafonte, who had also happens to be a u.s. navy veteran of world war ii, white secretaries an upstairs office windows kept extending thumbs down signs to baldwin, to the marchers, until suddenly many of them saw the stunningly handsome, rain matinee idol, harry belafonte in the crowd. [laughter] when they saw that beautiful cat, says baldwin, these women demonstrated that america was the most desperately schizophrenic of republic. [laughter]
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baldwins storytelling pros and his insights were never in better form. this was vintage james baldwin. race, sex, and his country all on extraordinary display and subject to his scorching ironic and. those young women in the windows, baldwin declared, quote could only look forward to an alliance with one of those jeering businessmen. and they were, he says, female, a word which in the context of the colored curtain has suffered the same fate as the word mail. baldwin did not miss his chance. when those girls saw harry belafonte, he writes, a collision occurred in them so visible as to be at once hilarious, and on another set. at one moment the thumbs were down. they were barricaded within
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their skin. at the next moment those downturned thumbs blew up to their mouse, their faces change, and exactly like bobby stalkers, the food and on and moaned. god knows what was happening in the minds and hearts of those girls. [laughter] perhaps they just wanted to be free. out of imagery that only baldwin might have actually seen, any world historical moment, i may the joy and salinity of the spectacular selma march, he made great part of all the real people around him, barricaded in the scene. on the deep of the centennial of the surrender, in a city where the confederacy was born, baldwin as he had been doing for years, tried to kill that old
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story, asking everyone to see into a new history we never had before. after all, he, too, just wanted to be loved, just wanted to be free. [applause] >> oh, thank you, david. thank you so much. last but not least, ladies and gentlemen, arnold rampersad. arnold rampersad was driven to write his ph.d dissertation at harvard on w.e.b. dubois of what he thought was lacking in prior attempts to ready the great man's life. characteristic generosity, he said and ago, all of us pointed written about him had been good
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jobs, i believe that they had missed genuine essence. to my opinion, is the grandly poetic imagination he brought to the distancing in describing black america and america itself, unquote. from the vantage point of knowing and admiring professor rampersad for years and years and years, i would say that my dear friend shares w.e.b. dubois' genuine essence. through the lens of his biographical subjects, this premier biographer has brought into sharpest focus not just his subjects, but black america and, indeed, america itself. for faster transfer was one in trinidad and tobago, and called his literary education alone. in those early years he was certainly not a student of w.e.b. dubois, langston hughes or the harlem renaissance. the writing that would subsequently shape him professionally. perhaps it is his sublimely
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cosmopolitan perspective on the united states and on its literature that gives him such clear view of it. so that may be too easy a formulation. in any case, suffice it to say, that his work really is without compare. the word magisterial is often used in conjunction with biographies, so the effect of the word has diminished somewhat. but want to restore it. as i can think of no better word than that to describe the march and authority of his four masterwork. the art and imagination of w.e.b. dubois, the life of langston hughes, in two volumes, jackie robinson, a biography, and ralph ellison, a biography. the first volume of the hughes biography was a finalist for the go to price. the ellison biography was a finalist for the national book award.
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in recognition of his contribution not only to african-american biography, but also to the genre of biography itself, he recently received the 2012 bile award for biographies international organization. william grimes called rampersad's biography of ralph ellison fair to a fault. rampersad's judicious and honest appraisal of the most difficult and complex figure in the american literary pantheon. grimes puts it humorously, ethical, biographers enter into times of marriage with their subject. usually the relationship is happy but sometimes this happens, the biographer wakes up one morning after years of cohabitation, looks over at the other person, and sees a stranger. and unlikable stranger at-bats. unquote. whether we see ellison as unlikable and aggressive, or sad and the rest, or both, rampersad
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presented fully fleshed out character in this work. the temptation to lionize the man must have been great. no other novel had more influence over african-american writing in the latter half of the 20th century, then invisible man. another critic called rampersad's treatment of langston hughes unsparing and sympathetic. those are the qualities, if you think about it, ladies and gentlemen, of unvarnished truth telling. and it's those qualities that make arnold rampersad's work so powerful, so very, very important. in addition to being a biographer without fear, rampersad is also a noted editor and anthologist with superbly edited additions, including the collected poems of langston hughes, and an autobiography of langston hughes. library of america, like boys and native son, and the
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collection into slavery and imagination which he edited with government cow down at the university of virginia. is also the co-author of arthur ashes fetching memoir, titled days of greece. rampersad is a professor in the humanities america's at stanford, and these help fellowships of the mccarthy, guggenheim and rockefeller. he's an elected member of the american academy of arts and sciences, and the american philosophical society. 2010, he received the national humanities center, which was presented to them by president obama in a ceremony at the white house in 2011, the nation's highest honor conferred upon a human. arnold rampersad has been a model and a mentor for literary scholars for more than three decades, and i include myself among that number. among those of us indebted to him for his insistence upon the university, for his insistence
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upon the universality of stance, of truth for the capital, and beauty with a capital b., and as dubois would have a. he combines the fullest embrace of his biographical subject humanity, with the courage to confront the fullest range of that humanity. qualities that are all too rare, even among our most lauded biographers. qualities absolutely necessary to the task of responsibly representing another persons life. all of its beauty and its darkness over the full range of its humanity, and ours. that is the essence of the autobiography, and it is the challenge that arnold rampersad has so successfully confronted squarely, honestly, and always, most eloquently. it gives me an enormous amount of pleasure, ladies and
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gentlemen, and a privilege to present arnold rampersad with the anisfield-wolf lifetime achievement award. [applause] ♪ ♪ i, too, agree that the skip should have stepped on going and going and i would have to say a word or. i should first get a drink out of this glass of water. it's wonderful to be in cleveland. i remember, i'm a bowling green alumnus. [applause] >> and i also spent several
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weeks, months maybe, many, many years ago when i was working on the first line of the life of langston hughes, trying to track down the footsteps of that wonderful man during his four years at federal high in cleveland. so it gives me a great deal of pleasure being back. so thank you very, very much, professor gates, skip, my friend. and thank you, also to all the members of the exceptionally distinguished jewelry, including you and also the wonderful poet read it, who decided to make me a honoree this year. i was very pleased to receive and wonderful letter from mr. richard, giving me the news, confirming the news. and i thank all the people who helped to make my visit pleasurable, easy, comfortable,
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including perhaps above all merited who has been here tonight. i recall quite vividly how thrilling it was in 1987 to learn that the first volume of my langston hughes biography had been selected by the anisfield-wolf foundation as one of its honored books that you. i knew the pioneering role the foundation had played, recognizing how crucial it was and is to encourage studies having to do with race and american culture. of course, i could hardly have imagined then that some 25 years later i would be standing on this stage as a recipient of so distinguished an award from the same foundation. certainly understanding race has been an essential challenge in my own biographical work, whether my subject was trying to come hughes ash, robinson, or
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ellison. each of these men experienced and understood raise in a different way. with the prophetic dubois, doctor dubois, let's call them trying to come it was an all consuming issue with which he wrestled his entire life to be even subtitled one of his books, the autobiography of the race concept. langston hughes, it can genial man but not without his daemon news needless to say. race was a topic engaged in the public many from an angle that emphasized not rich or recrimination, although he certainly had his fiery moments but his emphasis on the idea of the beauty, and spirituality of blackness. for the highly sensitive arthur ashe, raised by his own declaration was a source of pain, more intense and even the disease of aids that took his life prematurely in 1993.
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for jackie robinson, race was first the barrier to segregation to the hurtles spectacularly as he did in 1947, but then in later life a struggle for dignity and effectiveness as he waged in the spirit of politics, this is in civil rights. for our fellow citizens race was an issue to be adjudicated within the context of a complex american national identity that was founded on certain principles and ideals enshrined legally and what allison called quote sacred document. starting my own doctoral work in english and american literature in the united states in 1968, has confessed talked about come i was swept along as so many of us were in 1960s and early 1970s by the force of social and political changes involving race that were transforming american culture.
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choosing a dissertation topic, i turned away almost instinctively from traditional literary criticism, much as i love poetry, i did not want to write a book of literary criticism of the traditional kind. dimly recognizing what i thought was a crisis of representation, we as black americans were concerned, i turned to a biography out of a sense of biography offered an almost uniquely effective way to address what i've called a crisis of representation. when i found myself seated to the bone by passages about race in trenches 19 is a classic the souls of black folk, for example, but then read the major existing scholarly books on dubois, i couldn't see the face, the mine, the sensibility of the man who had moved me so deeply. air, dubois was emphatically not my dubois so i get deeply
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as as i could then into biography. the dubois papers were close to me so i tried my hand at what is called intellectual biography. i think that what i didn't fully understand in starting out was their absolute rarity, that is, biographies of black americans by either whites or blacks. it i didn't fully understand that in the real sense, biography simply wasn't supposed to happen to black americans, just as black americans were not supposed, indeed some sub cases were not allowed in certain neighborhoods or to hold certain positions. dubois had written about the paradox of being a black american, possessing no quote true self-consciousness, but being instead doomed always to see one's self only as white.
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dubois went on the content of the wide world but seem to think in his words that quote between men and cattle, god created the terzian quit, and called it negro. david smith has covered some of this territory, but american history bore out the accuracy of this observation. one highly regarded 19 century both sides argue that black constituted not a different race but an altogether separate species from whites. so that quote the negro was closer to the chimpanzee and the orangutans than he was to the caucasians. a chief justice of the united states supreme court declared that as far as the founding fathers were concerned, blacks from the start that quote been regarded as being of an inferior order. and altogether unfit to associate with the white race either in social or political relations. and so far, they had no rights which the white man was bound to
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respect, end quote. the u.s. supreme court ruled in 1896 that social contact between blacks and whites was so distasteful a proposition inherently that separate but equal accommodations for blacks and whites were perfectly legal. he wrote jim crow was made legal. such attitudes nationally held, a biography of a black man amounted not only to a kind of violation of social -- but also perhaps to violation of intellectual propriety itself. for many decades frederick douglass seem to be the only black person deemed worthy of a substantial biography. that is, one published by an established house. this situation persisted well beyond the segregation decision of 1954 and the trouble of the civil rights movement. finally, according to my record,
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in 1972 the historian louis harmon published the first of his two volumes on booker t. washington that was written -- worthy of a pulitzer prize. the silence enveloping black writers began to break. in 1973, demagoguery of the novels richard wright by the frenchman, followed by a 77 of the novelist historian by the american scholar robert hemingway. and in 86 and 1988, came my two volumes on hughes. aided by a voluminous archive left behind by hughes, i tried to tell through the lens of one crucial life the african-american story as it had existed, and exists at a certain social level. i tried to do justice to the complexity that had been discounted over the centuries, and the representation of american racial reality. the picture is quite different now.
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the 1990s saw a steady rise of prize-winning biographies of black americans by writers such as taylor branch and william fugate in 1994 and 2001, david lewis one pillagers for each of his two volumes on dubois. this year, a biography by the lake manning marigold won the pulitzer prize. this surge in biographical writing by african-americans is i think a dependable index is shifting and meaning of race in american culture, and also to the dignity of black americans. biographies document and complicate a sense of individual human condition. they are the opponent, faceless this of existential emptiness of what has been called social death. insofar as race remains a major issue among us and will continue to remain major among us,
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biography i would say is almost uniquely qualified as an effective response to the harm that racism in this very forum's has caused and continues to cause so many aspects of our lives. i am deeply satisfied to have played even a small role in this unfolding story of change, and again, i can certainly profoundly grateful to the anisfield-wolf foundation for honoring me as it has today. thank you very much. [applause] >> visit to watch any of the programs you see your online. type the author or book title in the search bar on the upper left side of the page and click search. you can share anything you see on easily by clicking share on the upper left side of the page and selecting the format. tv streams live online for 48 hours every weekend with top
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nonfiction books and authors. spent we're here with author fergus border which. what was so great about the great compromise? >> well, most people who know anything about the confluence only have the vaguest recollection from perhaps a junior high school that there's a crisis in 1850. the nature of the crisis, the country went to the brink of civil war. most of the political culture and most americans thought war was going to take place. that the deep south was going to succeed. they were much closer to secession the most americans even today realize. certainly the deep south states. texas was arming other southern states were sending armed men to texas. why my talking about texas? had there been a collision, had
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were begun in 1850, it wouldn't have begun in charleston but it would have begun in santa fe, new mexico. why? because texas was its own imperial ambitions, westward supported by the slaveholding south, aimed to invade the new mexico territory. there were many other parts to the crisis. fundamentally in this was not the west would be slaves or free. in 1850, the south was military i, other nationalism was at a peak. jefferson davis on the floor of the senate in 1850 said if they southern confederacy was to be formed now, he was ready to accept the presidency of the, in 1850. the north on the other hand was nowhere near ready to go to war. and, indeed, the north still dominated by the conservative wing of the democratic party, largely with the south, in other words, the north would not have
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fought the war, or certainly would not thought the same or, secession probably would have succeeded. and the consequences of that, not only for american history but for the rest of the world, could've been quite tragic. >> what was the floor of congress like in 1850? >> it was tumultuous, chaotic, intense. a debate in congress was like a world series today. of course, there was no sports culture in the mid-19th century. politics was the great american sport. americans came from all over the country to attend debates, especially when great titans like henry clay and daniel webster and john c. calhoun and others were debating. but imagine a much smaller senate chamber crowded with men
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who might have hated each other, literally elbow to elbow, a room reeking of cigar smoke, spelling of gas from gas lamps, carpet with spittoons scattered here and there meant spending in one direction or another, often missing, and an intense congested atmosphere with political men going mano a mano in the great arena. >> two of those men come henry clay and stephen douglas, what was their role in the cover by? >> well, henry clay had been in retirement and was called out of retirement in kentucky to take charge of an attempt to create some kind of a compromise. he wasn't as the great compromise or for the missouri
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compromise, and also the 1833 compromise that brought the country back again from crisis over south carolina's nullification of federal law. henry clay was a grand, remarkable man, and he never want to say no when he was invited to speak, to seek political attention. so we returned to washington and let the debate for seven months, attempting to persuade congressmen from the right and left in the south and the north to agree to a grande cup of ice, a grand bargain if you like, that would solve the slavery question once and for all. he failed. henry clay was pivotal to the debate but he failed in actually making a compromise real. he had put together one of the first omnibus bills and american political history, the omnibus
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collapsed. what happened? stephen a. douglas noted journalists at the time as a steam engine and bridges, very short, ferocious northern democrat come youngest man in the senate, 35, the marco rubio of his day perhaps, did what clay had not done. he did the numbers. in other words, what stephen a. douglas determined was that there were enough combination of votes in the senate to pass the different parts of clay's compromise, but not all at once. so they passed separate bills. using different combinations. so the lesson is really persuasion is necessary to persuade the doubtful. but if you don't do the numbers you won't succeed. persuade and the numbers you have the chance but in these two men together symbiotically did
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it spent we're speaking with fergus bordewich, author of "america's great debate." thank you. >> thank you. >> with one month left in 2012, many publications are putting together their year end list of notable books. booktv will feature several of these lists focusing on nonfiction selections. these nonfiction titles were included in "foreign policy" magazine's must read books.


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